Campus Farm

The U-M Campus Farm/Sustainable Food Systems Program


Photograph by Sarah Schwimmer

The creation of a campus farm to provide hands-on learning about sustainable food production has long been a goal of a number of students and faculty at the University of Michigan. The Campus Farm, a major project of the U-M Sustainable Food Program, has received a Quick Wins grant from the Third Century Initiative to support its continued growth and development at Matthaei Botanical Gardens as a multi-disciplinary field classroom and demonstration project for hands-on learning in sustainable agriculture.


Increasing sustainable food use on campus was a key goal of U-M’s Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment released in 2011, and the development of a campus farm has been seen as a key component to achieving that goal.

In Winter semester 2012, a School of Natural Resources and Environment Master’s Project formed to develop a broad U-M Sustainable Food Program (UMSFP) as a way of bringing together diverse campus groups with interests in sustainable food systems and to foster collaborative relationships with similar groups in Southeast Michigan. The group readily adopted the creation of the U-M Campus Farm as a key initiative and successfully created a pilot garden plot at Matthaei Botanical Gardens during the summer of 2012.

The goal of UMSFP is to foster collaborative leadership that empowers students to create a sustainable food system at the University of Michigan while becoming change agents for a vibrant planet. It does this through education both formal and informal, community building activities, and growing food, empowering people to grow, buy, and eat in a socially and environmentally responsible way. The Campus Farm not only serves as an education and community gathering space but also provides healthy, nourishing, sustainable food grown on campus, transforming a former plant nursery space to a tasty and visible commitment to sustainability by the University of Michigan.

Project Goals

The Campus Farm serves as a living-learning laboratory focused on providing learning opportunities for students while growing food with sustainable agricultural practices. Many students at U-M have very little background knowledge and experience in farming, horticulture, and gardening, and the Campus Farm provides them with a place to learn about food production first-hand. It also serves as an important laboratory for individual students, classes and organizations to experiment with various techniques and environmentally sound practices and technology in the growing of food. With its focus on education, it is a gathering space for people with all levels of interest in and knowledge of sustainable food. It is a place for creativity to bloom and community to be built while volunteers and student leaders come together to get their hands dirty and learn from each other and from other experts in the community.

Successful expansion of the Campus Farm requires a program coordinator who would engage students in a variety of volunteer activities and workshops, insure that food crops are grown and properly maintained, and facilitate use of the farm by organizing class field trips, setting up research plots for classes, and connecting with professors who would consider utilizing the space. The coordinator would also assist the UMSFP student leadership team with running the Harvest Festival and other key events.

The Quick Wins grant is being used to cover the salary costs of interns serving as program coordinators for the farm this summer. The remainder will be combined with funds from an earlier grant from the Planet Blue Sustainability Initiative and with support from the Division of Student Affairs to hire a staff person to help facilitate not only farm operations but the mission of UMSFP across campus. This person will serve as a consistent point of contact on sustainable food for UM students, faculty, administration, and Ann Arbor community members, and will support students and classes in their work to institutionalize sustainable food in theory and practice at UM.

Project Team:

Robert E. Grese, School of Natural Resources and the Environment
Ray DeYoung, School of Natural Resources and the Environment
Andrew J. Horning, Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute
S. Margot Finn, College of Literature, Science and the Arts

Mike Shriberg, College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute